Assessing the damages had been...tedious. He quickly tired of shaking the bushes looking for bodies, Grace and Zinnia following in brave silence. All he could find of the Aurors were mixing pools of blood, some funneled into summoned jars, the rest vanished.
He hated the quiet of others in their thoughts, ones unshared and too hot to touch. And so while he’d carried his mother’s portrait, abandoned in the grass, he was dedicated to thinking of what needs done. The house needed rebuilding. He would prove an academic, and not a carpenter, he was sure. He didn’t know who among them were builders.
Then Severus felt the weight of the frame lighten only to see his—sister—helping. It broke an unnamed seal in him that he had relegated to the dark annals of history.
An emotion unfelt and so unneeded crawled into him. It burrowed into his chest, where it found a cave of cold portraits and breathed on them, cleaned the glass, made them warm.
It tutted at the tiny space, there to hang more faces. Severus snarked something rude aloud, hoping to shake it loose. The two women only snorted. And the creature in him puffed another warm breath.
The brave silence quickly evaporated. The three fell into complaints and outrage and muttered handling of the picture. He felt the creature stretch its hairy limbs to make room. He reached for something sinister, like the clink of the shrunken jars in his jeans pockets. He shook the sound at the warm thing like to ward off an evil spirit.
Severus unwound, just enough, to round the house and be shown the wreckage.
He immediately regretted lowering his guard, but he couldn’t help it. It felt as if he couldn’t help much of anything—Zinnia’s shock, or Grace’s return to stony quiet. He glimpsed Potter dart into the house and tightened his fist some, felt the stretch on his knuckles, only to release it.
Because showing in rare form, the boy had helped more than hurt. Severus had brought this morning down on them. Without Severus, there would be no vengeful Narcissa Malfoy or murderous Aurors to lay waste. Without Severus, this would’ve been—kinder.
A family of four almost-Muggles would reunite with an annoyingly heroic former orphan, their long-lost fifth. They would be saved by the brat’s many fortunes and laugh and bid farewell to what used to be Severus’s house. And dingy, decrepit Spinner’s End would keel over into wood rot and cobwebs, and become more rubbish for the beetles and ants and rain and leaf litter.
Severus would be elsewhere, with his shriveled, nameless creatures and the cold space inside. All would very likely be well.
He’d spent too many minutes on the sidewalk.
He’d been staring at the gold station wagon across the street. Its driver side door had caved in and all its windows were stomped to glitter. Not even the car had gone unscathed. And Severus thought, somewhat practically, that he could have Narcissa fund the repairs, oversee the renovations to the house, goad a few extra thousands from the woman as her apology, and leave.
He didn’t even hear someone call him. He had been thinking he could find another little nook, maybe in Switzerland this time, or the Americas. He would brew and send the Wolfsbane every month, without need for pageantry. Perhaps, if invited, he could check on the girl’s progress in school, through Grace or, if needs must, through Potter. That boy was an open book.
Then he felt the bony, coughing body sidle up to him, and felt beside himself. Zinnia arrived in a pungent perfume of coppery mud and pine resin, and he sneered, and she hacked. They both looked at the car.
“Quite shitty of you to have our house wrecked, Reverend Snape. Stings, does it? The guilt . ”
He sucked in a sigh. “You talk so much.”
“Hm. So yer a screw-up, who cares. You got the lighter?”
He did, and knew it clicked against the jars of dead Auror blood in his pocket. Severus made as if to reach for it, but ended the move dropping his hand.
“Mm,” he offered instead. He wound up being rummaged through, Zinnia patting him down like a guard while he stood numbly. She huffed, digging the Bic from his jeans, nose wrinkled.
“That shit stinks. What’re you keepin’ it for anyway, weirdo?”
“Creepy,” and she lit a cigarette, and that was all on that for a beat.
She smoked, and Severus, again unbidden, relaxed, so much so he nearly gave in and sat on the curb. Of course, he stayed standing, waving his wand idly, swirling the blue-green dusting of smashed car window into a rough shape. Then he charmed it fixed, back in its frame, and popped the dent in the car door, and gave it a sweeping clean for good measure.
The old player car bounced, axels creaking, good as new. Zinnia huffed.
“See, we ain’t even have that. Magic fixes everything.”
“No, it doesn’t,” they then said in unison.
“Fine, I mean, it’s useful. When they came for me, the law or whatever,” she gestured behind them, at the rubble, “they made a mess. Raided the house. I—whatever—I was sellin’, drugs. I had moved out, but were visiting home for a holiday and they tore everything up, tossed the cabinets, cut open mattresses, every fuckin’ thing.
“And there I am gettin’ cuffed and havin’ to look my mum in the eye. I’m like twenty-five and engaged and shit, and mum’s pregnant again. I couldn’t even get cleared to see the baby, ‘cause we didn’t have a proper address. They’d got kicked out over me.”
Severus glanced at her knotted mane and looked away, worrying the pommel of his wand. “Is that supposed to be comforting.”
“It’s what it is,” she replied. He heard her grinning and swore, rubbing his eyes. The weight on his chest had lifted. The creature sighed. How absurd. “We’re fuck-ups. Everyone is. I didn’t say it, but Fox—.”
“Yes, your brother said.”
“I’m saying, it’s what it is. He burned a place down once, noddin’ off with a light in his hand. That’s why they all moved to Leeds. And Mum is Mum, she’s done her shit. So don’t pout, just fix it.”
“I wasn’t. I am.” Then he eyed her chewing on a pinkie nail. “You were willing to be arrested again for assaulting me.”
“Would you call that a ‘fix’?”
“You know who ya look like,” Zinnia snorted, unbothered. “If you could go back and kick the shit outta him, ya would.”
He grunted, frowning at the now gleaming car. He admitted that points were made. Then the wizard felt her head turn, and heard the werewolf mutter, “Who the hell…? Are they for you?”
“That ginger walks like a cop,” and Severus, confused, looked up the street.
Unexpectedly, amid the shock and frustration and anger at Potter, Severus felt relief. This wasn’t the siege of battle-dressed Aurors he imagined, there to avenge their crooked compatriots.
And contrary to that gladness, it was an occupied street, meaning better occupied thoughts. He could appreciate a thing more than morning hush to distract him from the biting self-awareness, the glare of sunlight making him known, filling word-made warmth, and another guilty turn of his stomach.
Severus went inside—well, less outside—in search of Potter. He trampled the personal effects so lovingly transfigured to rubbish. He wobbled and nearly tripped on a board levered on something thick.
Severus staggered back and flipped the board with a peevish kick, revealing Potter’s glimmering gold heirloom underneath. The wooden parts of the cover should have burned in Narcissa’s onslaught. Grumbling, he worked the book out of nest of crisped paper, brushing off the fluttery bits.
Tucking the book to his side, he bent over, flicking through the ash.
Might as well start counting the books, he figured. She’ll pay in entire vaults soon en…
He barely recognized the scribble on one fluttering flake. It blew away when he touched it for a closer look, fell apart and took off light as a moth’s wing. He growled and shook apart the rest of it, beating the bits to powder and giving it up for lost.
His mother’s journal didn’t make it far in the limp breeze. The Prince family tree dusted the rest of the trash. It settled in a few cracks and the rest coated the treads of various slippers. Severus didn’t flinch—much—as he could hardly read it as it was.
Where would be a better resting place? A book-shaped casket? An urn?
Instead he stalked upstairs, planning to give the boy the last free piece of his mind.
Irritated on the climb up, he pried open the Potter book, determined to flip until he saw something worthwhile. What made Potter’s book so much better than his? So much more fucking precious?
Severus scoffed. Some dead toff had penned an index in excellent, swirling calligraphy. No doubt many tutors had taught that curving, uncalloused hand. And that same writer had left a credit for the book’s various artists. One such name nagged him. Had he seen it somewhere else?
Severus proceeded to flip through the book, forwards and backwards, harmlessly agitated for the few paces down the hall. He couldn’t remember where in the gilded atlas it was that he’d last seen that one particular name.
Whatever. More little puzzles. The wizard judged himself for running away to petty problems. He wasn’t a child. He needn’t toys. Before long he was tossing the thing back Potter’s way, and taking in the boy in his entirety.
He wasn’t unlike the rest of them: messy, lost. Severus said a snide thing about neglecting his lauded belongings, ancestors and the like. And as if reading his mind—for only the second time in all their rivalry—Potter cut with idiot precision:
“Where’s the other one, the Prince book?”
Why would you even ask me that, Severus wanted to spit. Again, the canvas stretch of skin on his knuckles.
What does it matter to you what I’ve got. More to take, you greedy twat?
“Burned,” he said instead, wondering why he kept the rest. What use did he have for the evil, acid words his heart produced like bitter fruits? They weren’t filling, like a friend’s condolences—except maybe filling with rage.
“Well, least you got another.”
And again, his stomach turned too guiltily, and Severus wanted to spit venom at any body present. His mouth went dry as a beach before a tsunami.
Fred moved quickly without knowing to. Severus felt the squeeze on his shoulder and the creature stretched. His chest ached.
The man passed from view and he saw Potter, dumb and gawping, in the room of empty tanks. The night even spirited away the harrowing boa, gone with every slithering thing and not a stitch of furniture. All of anybody’s small, irreplaceable treasures, taken by one night of strange magic.
Severus did all he could with the thoughts he had left, anchored to him by spite. He gave them to the creature. They were too much of him. The problem was too obviously Severus, and nobody would say so. Even Potter held himself so still, most likely out of self-preservation, yet an expression took the fool boy like empathy before being stuffed hurriedly away.
Severus wanted to be angry. He could be, if he tried.
“That shit stinks. What’re you keepin’ it for anyway, weirdo?”
This is miserable, he cursed internally. The beast of feeling hung more portraits in his heart.
“So yer a screw-up, who cares.”
He lost his grip on anger again and found it replaced with, among other things, the fact of eyes watching his every look. With no one deserving to hurl invectives at and hear the pretty crash, he threw the fight. He kept his resentments, but let the weapons drop.
When his incendiary wants hit the floor, he even heard a creak. He frowned, then, realizing it was only Potter shifting his weight over the old floorboards.
He also realized as he snapped, “Downstairs,” and left, that it was a similar groan as earlier that morning. When the Aurors had Apparated into the house, they must’ve appeared in Fred’s small room. It did hang right over the kitchen.
The wizard returned to the street, accepting the breeze on this shameful face. Zinnia waited smoking on the curb, while the rest of her family took on the strangers.
“Well, does he know them?,” she asked, clearing her throat. She hawked a wad of grey phlegm on the sidewalk.
He curled a revolted lip at her, eyes watering. “Nasty woman. Does who know whom?”
“The kid—Harry. Them .”
“Oh, so you’ll remember his name with no problem. Consider it noted.”
She handed him the lighter with an eye roll. Severus plucked it from her fingers and shoved it next to his jars.
“Of course he knows them,” he went on.
“They’re his childhood chums and his blasted father’s pet people pleaser. Incoming: two irritants and the spineless wonder. A busybody, a slacker, and a joke in a knit jumper. If you threw three cats in a sack and swung it, you’d have the same effect: dizzy, loud, and too pitiful for words.
“Of course he bloody knows them!” This was good. He could vent. “You ought to have met his godfather, ragged cur that he was. Potter loves strays.”
Zinnia cackled, coughing a cloud of smoke. “Someone’s gettin’ to a bit a badmouthing. Havin’ fun?”
“It is my passion.”
She walked off to see closer, Severus using her as a lead. He confronted the border of their place and the world at large. Weasley came, Potter came, even the cat came at some point. They all gathered in front of the shimmering ward line and Severus, like before, was glad for it.
It distracted from the warm press of things unsaid. His week had been torture. Perhaps the trio trudging toward them could end it.
He feigned disgust, sure no one could tell he didn’t mean it. He argued to himself that he could, if pressed.
Far too many people knew of his house than he’d ever planned for. He yelled about that, and started to feel himself again. Yes, anger he knew.
He hoped in part that the intruders would turn away. He also hoped he’d have the mean pleasure of Potter turning them away, especially if Severus pushed it. Then he would pay on his debt, keeping the boy home—no! No, keeping the boy here, simply here , and the strangers, there, and the group of them all safe.
Dammit, he swore, wincing. The anger had gone again.
All he wanted was honest rage. He rubbed his chest and looked down the line of relatives—and Weasley—and there near the end of it were Potter and his mother in a mournful clasp.
Gods, this is my personal hell , Severus lamented.
He nearly bit through his cheek when his mother’s portrait came to mind against his every straining wish. In poured Dover, and the ocean, and the cliffs, and the Hel rite where deep underground he prayed her spirit went well. It was all too unbearably close.
Zinnia hunched on the opposite end of the line, guarding Potter and Grace with a scowl. Lupin blithely stumbled forward and Potter shrunk from the wolf like a boy half his size. The Hedgerot she-wolf lashed out, forcing Lupin back.
She only had her bitten nails and a cigarette, but the man clutched at himself like he’d been stabbed. Weasley practically whimpered her little friends’ case. Lupin began to holler, showing his distress.
Severus didn’t know Lupin for his dramatics. Zinnia recoiled, drawn in strength. Severus ticked another power off to the wards. Then, bothered by Grace’s stricken protests, said his piece.
“For fuck’s sake, just turn them away and come back! It isn’t brain surgery!”
He glared at idiot Potter, wondering when he’d think to end his own mother’s suffering. Then, for a third time, twice in a few minutes, the boy stared far too long, and cut into Severus’s most private concerns.
“I didn’t think you’d want me back, Snape.”
I’ll kill him, was his first thought.
“I don’t,” he retorted, more honestly, but perhaps only a little more, as revolting of a possibility that might’ve been.
Severus couldn’t say he wanted Potter gone, knowing how it’d upset the house. He wanted Potter quiet and out of sight, but not irreversibly. In another room, maybe. He wanted Potter’s friends gone, or, at least, was relieved by the task of making them leave.
But remembering the giant serpent swallowing the Fiendfyre—the boy could stay nearby. Severus didn’t mind him more than his Gryffindor posse, less even.
That realization hit hard.
The rest of the encounter passed almost boringly in comparison. For a forcible return to the wizarding public, Severus thought it rather disappointing. Other than the one shove, there was no fighting or grand denouncements.
Granger tumbled into Fred and the two did a dance of good nature and manners. Severus found meaner snarls in his hair.
The elder Weasley attempted to out-scowl Severus’s relations, to a fantastic failure. Zinnia’s wrinkled nose bridge channeled more septic loathing than every bit of a Weasley combined. There ran Snape blood.
Is this pride? He gagged. Imagine, pride in others. Severus could see the old man twinkling at him from among his whistling doodads.
Then he glanced sidelong at Potter smiling wobbly at his Lupin, unable to escape Grace’s tight grip. Grace glowered up at Lupin, who tried to greet her through her gathering children. Severus quested not to think on Albus too favorably, given the circumstances. What Tobias Snape couldn’t do to put the steely set in the woman’s jaw, Albus had done and gladly.
The werewolf then met eyes with Severus and smiled apologetically. The wizard froze and sneered back. What was Lupin trying, softening his gaze as if Severus were the pitiful one?
He realized then that the werewolf had come dressed better than him. His robes were dull, but patch-free and possibly even new. In contrast, Severus’s shirt was older than half of the people present. Lupin was scruffy as per usual, but cleaner cut than Severus with his days’ growth of patchy stubble.
And he wasn’t even scar-free now—never had been, really, but not in noticeable places. Narcissa had scored his cheek with gusto. Now he and the other man both looked caught out hunting.
Between Lupin and Severus, the latter was the unfortunate. That was a far-from-welcome return to his school days. The wolf even had the nerve to pretend he didn’t recognize him!
“Merlin, man, you look terrible.”
Severus blustered, insulted. He had nearly died four times in five days. He was allowed to look any which way he pleased. The audacity of Lupin and his band of hero brats to come onto his property and disparage him, as if they had any right to be there—!
“Harry, Snape is in fact your...family?” The man said this in awe and no doubt disbelief.
Although he had been addressing Potter, the wolf’s eyes never left Severus’s person. He felt unduly laid bare, and resisted the urge to cover himself like a maiden caught undressing in her boudoir. He fumed with indignance while Potter stammered through their relation.
Privately daring the boy to say something overwrought and saccharine, he nodded at “cousins.”
Yes, an incidental thing, cousins. Yes, family was a question, not a fact. And the answer was, obviously...well. Potter had spoken well, was all. The boy knew enough about truth, liar though he always was, to know when to employ it.
Severus shooed the awful thing in his chest from hanging another portrait. This one he’d fight. Let it sit on the floor of his cave, growing mildew and moss until the wizard felt it worth hanging.
Potter peeked his way through his unsheared fringe like Severus wouldn’t notice. The boy dared a nervous swallow, and mouthed a useless, “Sorry?”
Severus looked off, lip curling, shielding his eyes.
“You couldn’t possibly spend the night here!,” Hermione exclaimed as they took in the house from across the street. Harry’s heart dropped.
“There are no, I dunno, emergency measures we can slap together?,” he negotiated, folding his arms.
He sighed at Laney clambering over chunks of couch and bricks. A lumpy neon backpack hung from her one arm, with Snape’s cat squished in the other.
She didn’t look upset, but she scurried past them, flats slapping on the pavement. He winced. That seemed upset to him.
“There’s obviously worse that’s been done to a place. Remember Hogwarts? All that only took a summer to fix!”
“Yeah, but—.” Hermione’s mouth puckered.
Harry squeezed as much pathetic helplessness as he could into the deep furrow of his brows. He knew that face. It was her, “I’m trying not to argue,” face. Perhaps, if he looked sad enough, she’d fold.
“Don’t give her the puppy eyes, mate. She’s right,” Ron interjected, wrapping the witch in a one-armed hug. Hermione sagged. “This place is falling apart. You can’t stay.”
Ron gave him a consoling tap on his shoulder. As if to make the Auror’s point, Harry’s mother stepped out, having changed into a copper caftan with a headscarf to tamp down her curls. So laden with duffle bags, she steadied herself on a piece of the outer wall jutting into the house.
It promptly gave way, raining plaster on the swearing woman’s head. Hermione rushed to help.
Flushing, Ron cried, “Look at that! Harry, c’mon! It’s even leaning with the wind! This ain’t the Burrow, mate, you’ll die! You sleep in there tonight and it’ll fall right on your head.”
“I’ll thank you not to insult my house, Weasley.”
The two younger wizards bit their tongues and nodded manfully at Snape. The surly git had just returned from around the back, slipping more shrunken things in his pockets. He glared darkly at them, then at Hermione walking Grace to the curb.
Harry’s mum chucked the eager witch under the chin, and greeted Ginny, who played porter, with a friendly squeeze. Both younger women sparkled and went about primping their hair. Harry huffed, and addressed Snape absently.
“I say we can fix it up, at least a bit, so everyone doesn’t have to move.”
“Obviously,” Snape drawled, “we’ll be returning. However, loathe as I am to be agreeable, the house as is poses an unnecessary risk.”
“But—!” The dark wizard scowled. Harry scowled back. He wasn’t twelve anymore! “Then I’ll stay and help rebuild! I’m not entirely worthless. I’m pretty handy the Muggle way, at least.”
“Bully for you,” he was sneered at. “I’m sure that will be of great use in Black’s kennel, where you’ll be taking them. Let you play host for a week,” Snape challenged, “only a week, mind. I wouldn’t subject them to that den a second more.”
“Yeah, compared to the Ritz.”
As he said this, he watched Ginny jump to load his mother’s bags in the gold station wagon across the street. The Chaser flexed a bit more than necessary as she did. Harry could see the curve of her bicep from a dozen paces.
“Oi! I’ve got an eye on!,” he warned, grinning despite himself. His girlfriend blew a raspberry and trotted off, braid swinging.
We know the ground is safe, he thought. They all must have felt the grass tingle when they woke. It felt wrong to leave it, after all that.
“Where are you staying, then?,” Harry asked, nodding to Ron. His best friend gave another light punch for good luck, and jogged after Ginny.
Snape hung over him imperiously. Although, now that they were shoulder-to-shoulder, they looked of a comparable height. And now Snape was in the baggy, oversized clothes. He truly didn’t scare him anymore. They were both adults.
Harry straightened, pushing up his glasses. His mother’s friend—both of his mothers’ friend, it seemed—didn’t puff up like he had expected. Instead, he glanced over Harry’s shoulder, pulled a face, and shook his head.
“Again, with the damn cat,” he sighed, exasperated. Harry raised his brows, wrongfooted. But Snape was back on him, eyes snapping, before he could recover.
“Where else would I be, Potter: here. Someone has to do the real work.”
“That’s not fair!” He flinched. He hadn’t meant to whine. He knew he’d given ground when Snape curled a lip in rude amusement and brushed him off.
“Write the Minister about it.”
The bastard’s smirking. Harry went to rebut, not sure what he planned to say except that he’d say it loudly . Then he heard the end of the argument carrying on at the car.
“...right here! It’s not hard to understand!”
“We’re going home!”
Ginny’s voice peaked over an engine turning over. The station wagon puttered to life, three dark heads leaning out of it to watch the Weasley siblings bicker. The Chaser shrugged, clearly deciding to ignore her brother if he wouldn’t hear her out.
Ron continued. “Mum’s going spare! Dad, too! Your hand on the clock has gone nuts looking for you! And you’ve got to be in Cardiff tomorrow. Ginny, you’ve got people thinking you’re dead!”
“Aw, yeah, that’s bad. Ya can’t do that to a mother,” Grace chimed in from the backseat, arms folded on the metal with the windows rolled down.
“Go on home, lovey. Tell her sorry from me.”
This slowed Ginny down. A beet red flush took over her freckled cheeks. She looked so sorely at the car and the house that Harry felt bad watching. Her searching look landed on him.
He threw his girlfriend a little shooing motion and shouted, “Go on! I’ll be fine!”
“We’ll look after your little boy,” Freddy chuckled, sat sideways in the driver’s seat, elbow propped on the wheel.
Ginny grimaced, still obviously unsure. Harry tacked on, “Tell your folks I said hi.”
“Mum’s looking for you too, you daft idiot,” Ron shot back. “I’ll tell her you’ll visit next weekend, and you better show!”
“I will, promise!,” he said, smiling through a wet flip of anxiety. Mrs. Weasley wouldn’t be even a bit pleased with him. If his family stayed at Number Twelve more than a week, she wouldn’t see hide nor hair.
It was too soon to explain Harry’s everything to those who didn’t already know. Ron had invited the Hedgerots to the Burrow, grinning widely, but was shot down with Snape’s, “And tell them...what?”
That said it all. Arriving at the Burrow with everyone in tow, the whole conversation had so few options. It either started with a lie, or with, “Hullo. Lovely weather today. Oh, why yes, I am adopted, actually, and while we’re on the subject, Snape happens to be alive. I promise you won’t like how that ties in. I most certainly didn’t!”
It couldn’t be done. The family decided, if they had to leave, it would be by car to London.
Of course, the fastest and most discreet way to move five people to London—particularly the one playing dead—was by magical means. To that effect, Ron, Hermione, and Remus spent several minutes trying to convince the Hedgerots to Apparate. They bragged about how quick it’d be, and employed bravado for a tick to no real advantage. Eventually, they resorted to honest begging.
“I’ve done it with my parents before and it went perfectly,” Hermione tried, but Laney adamantly refused.
“But driving is so slow! Dreadful dull, Muggle cars,” Ron tried next, throwing in a mournful slouch.
“Never again. I’d rather eat glass,” she whispered, looking haunted.
Now she lied on her backpack in the backseat, having lost interest in the Weasleys’ spat. She buried her nose in a foxing romance novel that survived the night in her room. Freddy still abstained. Zed elected to pack her things. And there was no version of vanishing that Grace would co-sign.
Harry and Ginny neglected to help as they jointly wished to stay. And now Snape wasn’t going, which should have bolstered their case.
“Whichever way! Just leave!”
Snape threw up his hands and fled for the yard. Freddy used the itchy hush to fetch a week of clothes. He turned the car stereo to the pops and let it play while he loaded everyone’s things.
To ease the way, Remus agreed to come with Harry to Number Twelve and help get everyone settled. And then departed from any reason by volunteering to return. He signed on to help rebuild Snape’s house. Said dark wizard aborted his heated retreat at, “glad to lend a hand.”
“Lend nothing lest you lose it, beast!,” he forbade. Remus tucked his hands in his mustard robe pockets, deaf to Snape’s vehement protests
“I’ve some experience tinkering with this or that. It’ll be done in no time.” He said this with a genial smile and a pat on Harry’s back.
Then, quick as a sniffle, that pat morphed into a swift hug. It passed too fast to hurt but was shockingly strong, like a nip from a bear trap.
The Boy-Who-Lived froze and peeled away, surprised by the change. That was when he received a spontaneous talking-to: mostly a tired glare, and guilt, and a self-suffering sigh. Harry finally capitulated—“I’ll do better?”—and Remus let up. He summoned a smile from under a musty pile of many disappointed frowns.
“I know,” he replied.
After which, he asked Hermione for a stack of papers from her bag and ducked inside, smile slipping. Snape gave chase, biting at his heels.
Now they all stood outside aside from Remus and Zed. Even Snape shared the sidewalk. He paced in front of Harry, muttering insults, driving his heels into the pavement, shooting seething looks at every floor. Another minute passed with no Remus and no Hedgerot, and the man jerked to a halt, snarling, practically foaming to see them gone.
“LUPIN,” barked Snape. Everybody jumped at the boom and the resulting crash, maybe of falling pans or a kicked instrument.
Harry inched closer, growing even more uneasy. He looked at Hermione, who bit her lip, shaking her head. She braved a few steps nearer to the now irate ex-spy and called for Remus.
“Is everything alright? Do you need—?”
Finally, a scarred hand waved out of a second floor window on the end of a mustard sleeve. Remus’s head followed a moment later, shaking the dust from his hair and apologizing.
“Sorry, sorry!,” the werewolf laughed self-consciously. “I don’t mean to hold anyone, just hit a bit of a snag. Um, Snape, can we see you for a—well, no. Please calm down first.”
“Get out of my house, Lupin, and I’ll meditate by the stormless fucking sea. Get out!”
“Come up,” and Remus disappeared back inside.
Snape growled and the mangled grunts might have made words, although Harry couldn’t be sure. Hermione gasped, and even Ron and Ginny turned green.
“Say your goodbyes!”
The former Death Eater then bound into the house with his hands curved for strangling. Harry dogged Snape’s war path into the house, righting the shelves and furniture the man cut down in a rage.
He shouted, “Wait!,” and “Don’t you dare!,” at his tight back, failing to get ahead of him as they bullied their way up the stairs. Sad wood cried and complained underfoot, and soon they were thundering down the second floor hallway in a tangle.
Harry clipped a brown-burned cheekbone in the scuffle. Snape’s head snapped back, stringy dark hair flying. He spat like an asp and struck, winding Harry with a hard elbow to the gut. The younger wizard went down groaning, doubled over against the wall.
He swore, mouth watering, “Eugh, fuck you!”
Snape hissed, “It’s what you get!,” and, wand out, passed Harry to storm the last bedroom.
The winded boy caught his breath and rushed after. He just saw Remus opening the door, expression solemn, when Snape mowed the werewolf over.
“Remus!,” he cried. He made it to the door just as it was thrown shut and locked, stranding him outside.
“Snape, if you touch him!,” he threatened, pounding on the door.
“Why...crying!,” came a muffled shout from inside.
Remembering his own wand, Harry whipped it out. He hit the doorknob with a heave of wordless dread, and it sparked a jarring, neon green before vanishing the door entirely.
He bore a spike of fear, as it was suddenly him across from Snape, who turned in disbelief bordering on blackened, hell-scorched wrath—all with no barrier between them. However, almost imperceptibly, a finger tapped Snape for his attention. Whichever maniac wanted it had in full, as he flung a deftly dodged hex and seized a tweed vest parting yellow robes. The ex-spy shook Remus violently, bringing him in close to accuse with cold fury:
“I’ve not even had a second to explain,” Remus started, irritated and barely composed. He pointed for Harry to keep his distance. “Don’t you move. Gods, Severus, we only need to talk.”
“We are not schoolboy chums here to swap sweet memories. You do not call me Severus. That woman is upset and you can answer for that with words, or fingers will do just as well.”
“Hells. Harry, stay where you are.”
“But Snape is—!,” Harry said. He shuffled partway over the threshold for Remus to land him with a two-ton stare.
“I can handle myself,” the werewolf pushed.
He looked as rundown as Harry could expect in the days after a full moon. His nodding head was also tufted with free and fussy brown. The young man thought maybe he’d run his hands through it, or tore at it in frustration.
His glare softened a degree, and Remus nodded, suggesting, “Say goodbye to everyone, and maybe lead the way to London. I can meet you at Grimmauld Place like I said.”
“What about ‘leave me alone’ is pissin’ rocket science?”
Harry strained to see the skinny woman on the floor behind both men. Zed sat propped up on a scratched dresser, head in her hands. She looked to be in pain. Remus himself seemed anxious, more than he had when Snape grabbed him. And Snape looked ready to bite the next thing that moved, particularly if it was Harry.
“What’s this about,” Snape demanded.
“A territory issue,” Remus replied brusquely. “Harry, please tell your mother that Zed will remain here with us.”
His friend watched him expectantly. Harry balked, positive he was joking.
“I…” He shook his head. Remus wanted him to tell Grace to leave her eldest behind. With an unknown wizard, at that? He borrowed Laney’s poignant phrasing: “I’d rather eat glass.”
Remus sighed. He seemed to do that a lot. “Then I’m sorry, but please go. We—,” he went on, gesturing to Snape.
“There is no ‘we,’ you parasite!,” the dark wizard rebuffed, releasing the werewolf’s robes and moving to help his sister stand. “And you don’t make decrees in my bloody house. Potter can stay if he wants.”
“I can?,” the boy gasped.
“No, get out.”
“Please do,” Remus urged. Harry flinched, and the other man slid by Snape to speak lowly. “I hate to insist.”
“O-okay?,” and Harry was herded into the hall again before he could ask more. A new door popped into view and primly snapped closed, locked with a clunk. He heard mumbling and pressed his ear to the wood, only to yelp and rub it, peeved.
All he heard from then on was buzzing—a Muffliato . Any attempt to touch the door bought him another stinging hex.
Eventually, he had no choice but to wander outside and rejoin the others. His friends and girlfriend asked after Remus’s health. The other Hedgerots read or doodled boredly, taking the kind stranger for dead.
“Where’s your sister?,” Grace asked, reaching up to right his crooked glasses. He bent to help her, and was rewarded with a soft pat on the cheek.
Harry was split. On one hand, he enjoyed the fuzzy trip of the question, wondering if this was what the Weasleys felt all the time. He felt light and settled, and soothed as she changed to fixing his hair. On the other hand, he wanted nothing less than to answer his mother’s question. And he couldn’t think of a clever lie while he was being fussed over.
“She’ll be a minute,” he said, wiping the sweat off his nose. “She’s, uh, in the bathroom.”
“Yer a god awful liar, but that’s okay,” Grace snickered, tugging on a curl. “Don’t lie to ya mum.”
“And Severus? Where’s he? We wanna head off.”
Harry straightened up, guarding his fresh, new hairdo. He couldn’t see how much neater it was in his warped carside reflection. The right angle to see himself in the side mirror escaped him. It felt tidy, though, so he didn’t touch it.
He caught up to the question and coughed. “I thought Snape was staying?”
Grace tucked a scrap of scarf into the knot, raising her brows. “Says who?”
“Says Snape?” Now Freddy scoffed, and Laney resurfaced from her novel with giggle.
Grace shot back, “Pfft, no, he sure as hell ain’t! Wherever we go, we go together. That’s this family’s rule. Ya might remember that ya self. We stick together. Am I clear?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he saluted again.
“Good. Now go around and sit next to Laney. Girl, move. Freddy, beep the damn thing, the fuckin’—the horn! We gotta get movin’.”
Let her and Snape have it out then, he thought, shrugging.
Arms wrapped around his waist and he jumped at the sudden touch. Then he relaxed, recognizing her day-old deodorant, and hugged Ginny close, laying his head on hers.
“I’ll see you next weekend,” the witch swore, holding him tightly. “If you could stop at the Burrow tomorrow, distract my mum so I can sneak off to work, that’d be so very romantic.”
“Hmm, maybe,” he tried, rubbing her back. “If she smothers you to death, I’ll avenge you. Unless she cooks. Then I’ll avenge you after dinner—unless there’s dessert.”
“Yeah, alright, whatever,” Ginny huffed, letting go. She warned as she walked away, “One week, Potter!”
She stuck one finger up in the air. “One! No more adventures until I get back!”
“When has that ever been up to him,” Ron heckled.
The Auror motioned Ginny over, handing her a drawstring pouch he took from Hermione. The Chaser accepted it, and stole a last glance at Harry, sun sluicing over her copper hair. Then she poked into the pouch and Portkeyed away.
“Like, how d’you know she gets there safe? It’s a gamble every time,” Grace complained, ducking back into the car. “Fox, the horn!”
“Yeah,” Freddy grunted, still drawing in a pad on his knees.
He shimmied around and sat leaning sideways on the steering wheel. A car horn blared, and carried on and on, uninterrupted, as neither Freddy nor Grace seemed to flinch. Laney shrieked, yanking headphones from her bag and shoving them onto her head.
“Sorry, ducky!,” Freddy hollered over the horn.
Hermione spelled herself and Harry stone deaf, which terrified him for all of a second before she gestured, wiggling her wand. Once he realized, he mouthed his thanks and pointed to the car with an inquisitive brow. She shook her head, waved goodbye, and Disapparated.
He didn’t know the horn had stopped until he felt a tug on his shirt. He looked down, seeing Grace repeating something and lifted his wand. Only then, after wishing Hermione a good trip, did he realize he didn’t know the spell she’d used, and so didn’t know the counter.
He tried Finite and thanked Merlin when it worked. His other options were asking Remus or Snape for help.
Honestly, I’d do better deaf .
“Seriously, where are they?,” his mother pressed, growing agitated. “Is everything—oh, he’s alive.”
Harry saw she meant Remus, who’d just limped out of the house. He stopped with a hunted expression upon seeing them all there watching him. The younger man frowned when Remus swore, shook himself, and came their way.
“Uh-oh, he’s pissed,” Freddy grumbled, drawing his long legs into the car. He dropped his drawing pad and his pencil down the side of his seat, humming to the radio with assumed ease. He also turned the keys in the ignition and grinned fiercely at Harry.
“Get in, yeah?”
“He’s not dangerous,” Harry objected.
“I believe ya. Just get in.” He did, or at least opened the car door, and hovered just inside.
Freddy stepped out and grew to his full six and a half feet, grin fizzing away, thick brows bunching. Remus slowed his limp to a stroll, having to look up as he came closer.
Even as he did this, though, the werewolf didn’t look shaken. He went from hunted to harassed to vaguely neutral, with an edge from an unknown cause. One could guess Snape had said or done something. The potions master didn’t even do nothing to no effect. He let things brew, and then made use of them.
Maybe he’d done that to Harry’s friend. Maybe leaving them alone was a bad idea.
Idiot, of course it was!, he panicked, bright eyes bouncing between the men.
“Where’s she,” Freddy asked. Just the words. No smiles exchanged.
Harry prepared to jump in, but then wondered, in whose defense. Remus glanced at him and seemed to check him over, like he’d done when the wards dropped. A frantic scan from curl to cobblestone, and then his thoughts sunk below the patterned and unassuming face.
“Snape explained that you know about your sister’s condition,” Remus said. Freddy frowned and then a light went on, and crossed his arms.
Condition? Is Zed pregnant?, Harry thought, thinking of the photo of her cozied up to another woman. That seems...oh, but!
He also remembered the heartfelt talk Hermione had with him and Ron about women of different experiences. And then he remembered another talk, with Ginny, about women of varying preferences. He nodded to himself, shocked that someone as gruff as Zed would come by a baby in prison. However, knowing it was possible in any manner of ways, he supposed he’d have to wish her the best.
Wait, would that make me an uncle!?, he realized, horrified. However, soon the two men’s conversation re-entered his whirling mind.
“I don’t understand, and to be real as I can, if I don’t see my sister here now, we’ll have a problem. And that’s truly not what I want, I’ll tell ya. You seem like a upright bloke, and I'm not a brute.”
Knuckles were crackled, and forlorn expressions were had all around.
“Please, I understand that you’re upset,” Remus coaxed, holding up his empty hands. “She’s with your—Snape. There is only a bit of conflict, what with my being here, and having Harry between us.”
“Me!? I’m the problem!?”
Harry shut his mouth and squished into the car, realizing his input might have been unwanted. He found a spot between the window and his mother leaning out of it to eavesdrop.
He looked around her to her other side, and saw her back foot stretched out the far window, holding it closed. Laney pushed against the other door a few times. The cat on her lap meowed, nudged awake by her efforts. Harry lent a levitation charm and pushy, floating novel to keep Laney seated.
The little girl gave up when Grace’s calf pinned her to the backseat. The book fell on her face.
Remus continued, “She and I share the same condition, you understand. Part of that, and sharing Harry as well, it gets complicated. We were only trying to work it out when some outside factors...I don’t mean trouble.”
“I can see that,” Freddy reasoned, buttressed up by the car. The whole cabin rocked under his weight. “I can see that, just, y’know. If we’re goin’ anywhere, so is my sister, and if you have to come, too, so be it.”
At this, he shifted and bent back into the driver’s seat.
“But she’s not staying here to have it out over an adult who can make his own choices on who he likes. She’s not even built like that, personally. She doesn’t chase love from anyone.”
“Yes, no, she said,” but Remus seemed flustered now, tired and back to hunted. “Merlin, I wish I could explain better. Some other time, when I’m more...together...I hope you’ll let be explain again.”
“No, yeah, as long as ya see my point, too. I mean, it sounds like a nature versus nurture thing. I'm not here to judge.”
Harry figured they weren’t talking about pregnancy and flushed at thinking they ever were. Grace and Laney both listened quietly, the latter gradually returning to her book. Meanwhile, their mother covered her mouth, eyes narrowed. She ran a finger back and forth over the top of her nose, deep in thought.
A werewolf…, the wizard mused. He had known one since he was thirteen. He’d never shared blood with one, though. It didn’t feel much different, except for ebbing disfavor that still clung to his impression of her.
He imagined Dudley being a Muggle-turned-werewolf and the fit he’d have. She wasn’t that. She had her own problems, apparently, and seemed to like having them on her own. And unlike Snape of years past, she probably wouldn’t deign it her business—no, her right!— to make Harry miserable. He hardly saw her or talked to her after she chased him. She only did what Harry had for the last few years: holed up and kept to herself.
He didn’t like Zed. He also didn’t like Snape. However, if neither killed him, there lingered a “yet.”
“Y’know, he’s known you all way longer than us,” Freddy finished, scratching his beard. “Fighting seems...eh.”
Harry’s brother flexed his fingers on the parking brake, then fiddled with the radio until he landed on R&B. Harry found he liked it, despite never really hearing it growing up. To no one’s shock, the Dursleys never had a taste for “that music.”
He liked the background vocals. It sounded like if humans wrote mermaid songs.
“See, my days are cold without you…”
Freddy pulled off of the curb, one-handedly spinning the wheel. He u-turned and stopped, cutting the engine. Now the passenger’s side door framed Remus’s knees.
Freddy seemed to struggle with himself for a moment. Harry tracked his sour faces in the rear view mirror. It was all drawn in Snape’s features, so he only recognized frustration, irritation, and distaste.
“I dunno why—know what? It’s fine,” he settled. “Mum, are ya good?”
Grace knelt on the seat, having nearly spilled over thanks to her precarious perch. She maneuvered to sit square Laney’s feet. The girl hardly noticed.
She gave Freddy a thumbs up. “All good. Pack him up.”
Harry perked up as Freddy nodded once, stretched across the car, and opened the door.
“I...mhm, uh. Thank you.” Remus crouched low and fell into the passenger’s seat with a hiccup. “Damn, dammit, my, uh, my knees. I’m sorry, this is just so embarrassing.”
He looked back at Harry, who smiled.
“I can at least enchant the car to fit everyone. It’s the least I can do,” the werewolf offered, readying to leave again. Grace caught his sleeve and held him in his seat.
“Don’t,” she ordered. Harry saw the edge of Freddy’s smile in the rear view.
“Later, maybe, but how about for now, no magicking the car?” Remus looked at Harry again, and agreed solemnly.
“Fox, the horn.”
Severus levitated Zinnia’s box of clothes to save her the burden. She seemed to age as they walked, stooping, joints popping. He witnessed the changes, morbidly fascinated. Glad that his more curious mind could return and supersede the worry, the ickle warm things, and the guilt, he asked:
“What does it feel like?”
“Hurts,” she grunted, and his questions stopped there. He expected something vulgar and flippant, but just, “Hurts,” throttled the rest of his curiosity.
Severus mourned its dying gasp and helped her walk.
“Here,” he said, offering his arm, which she took swiftly.
His bones creaked. She was strong, terribly strong. The weakness her posture prescribed was actually a full body tensing, leaving her wracked with tremors.
Lupin had explained as best he could, convincing Severus for a few minutes that he might’ve been decent teacher. He was made to remember the end of Lupin’s professorial aspirations. The sick flip that gave him made the potioneer promise two blessings a month, instead of the one he’d already planned.
“Mine is better than that Ministry swill,” he shelled. His new emotions were killing him.
Regardless, Lupin accepted and explained this theory using Severus’s sketches.
“Where did you get those!?”
“They were sent through a Floo. I can smell Floo fire all over this room and downstairs. What have you done here?”
“That is this house’s business.”
“Sure, this house and all of England’s.”
Lupin had spoken at length, explaining that very rarely did two werewolves from different “families” share a member. Severus had thrown out “pack” to see the man cringe, only for Zinnia to shout: “ I’m a fuckin’ person! ”
For the rest of the time, he curbed his tongue and listened.
This wouldn’t normally be such a physical problem, Lupin had supposed. Uncomfortable, yes. It wouldn’t make them great friends, to nobody’s heartbreak. However, Zinnia felt every minute, lycanthropic twinge like a spasm.
Most instincts knocked. Hers bucked.
The power of the Fenrir rite had drawbacks, ones Severus never predicted or else he wouldn’t have given it to be performed. Lupin lectured on the wolf gods of the werewolf camps. He said how Fenrir Greyback had chosen his name, in a call to be worshipped.
“I don’t think in your spying that you’d ever heard his speeches. He was a deluded child predator, but he saw the bite as a breaking of chains—the great wolf’s chains. Greyback was a monster, however, worship of Fenrir is real. To call that destruction into a person is…”
They made slow progress past the master bedroom. It was open to the hall, and Severus, glancing over, saw it filled with all its trinkets. Some might have disappeared, but it was difficult to tell. He muttered something, strode to a box, and pulled a blanket from it that he returned with. Once back, he promptly lost inspiration.
For several moments, Zinnia eyed him from against the door frame, unimpressed. He held the blanket out in a jerky sequence: folding, unfolding, reaching, retreating, all in half measures.
“What d’you plan to do with it, swaddle me?,” Zinnia snarked shakily.
Severus remembered her on the basement floor after the change, teary and freezing. He paused, gripped by that first shock. Then he came back to himself and tossed the blanket over her head.
He spelled it into a wool cocoon. She gave a stymied middle finger, now wrapped to her side.
“The hell, Rev!? It’s August!”
“You’ll live. Enough dallying. Come, shuffle this way.”
Severus added a Featherlight charm to the blanket, so as not to ruin her careful balance. Lightening her load was a small measure, perhaps, but it got them to the curb.
“Alright, alright! Lay off, I’m here!”
The blasted horn finally stopped. The station wagon was already stuffed. Grace and her youngest took up most of the space, although with cramming and lap sitting, there was room for one more. He let the wool cocoon shuffle in with a litany of muffled swears, grumbling, “Yes, in. In. Yes, in,” until she was settled.
When the door shut, the blanket filled most of the window, blocking any glimpse of the others. Potter poked his head out of a window, saw Severus and, wisely, ducked back in.
“Uh-huh, and you, too,” Grace instructed from somewhere past the wool.
He thought to put on a show of, “I’ll be staying,” and “No, you won’t”s. But he was tired and glad to go.
“I’ve opted to ‘teleport,’” he said. “I already know the address. We will meet there.”
Severus looked in the passenger’s seat. Lupin stared through the windshield, mortified.
Severus supposed he should be, having been overcome by his bestial nature. His inner wolf had gone and attached to Potter like the senseless thing it was, as if the boy was one of its own cubs. Zinnia’s enhanced nature was to ward off and protect, lest Lupin steal the him.
She would destroy Lupin to keep the boy or destroy herself to give him away. And she didn’t even like Potter. Severus felt her embarrassment.
But for Lupin, he sneered.
“You look ridiculous,” and he did, sitting enrobed in a Muggle car, seatbelt on, gripping his wand.
The other man closed his tawny eyes in a quiet relinquishment of dignity. He could look forward to an evening of negotiating visitations. Severus dearly hoped it drained him.
“I’ll see you in London, then, Snape,” the werewolf replied, avoiding his eyes. Severus smirked and conjured a ruby red handkerchief, to bid Lupin and his relations bon voyage.
They rolled up the street and he stopped waving well before they disappeared over the hill. Soon he was alone, and the smirk fell. He tossed the square of silk away, transfiguring it back to singed paper. Severus took in his house, assessing the ruin, and felt akin to it.
Destruction. The word echoed.
Luckily, he had family to meet later that evening, and work to plan, and a friend to guilt. He had two Wolfsbane potions to brew, and as well as a draught of Polyjuice. After a visit, he had seven wards to study in exhaustive detail. He also had to win back a cat from a ten-year-old, as events made clear. There was Potter, existing, as well as two Ministry try-hards he’d need to scare into secrecy.
Severus wouldn’t be happy, but he would be busy. And if he stayed busy in quite this way, there lingered in the hollows of his chest a flickering “yet.”